July 2, 2019 By Rukia Henry

From Undergrad to Graduate School – Setting Yourself Up for Success

The demands of graduate school can be overwhelming. Most students may not know what to expect, which can make the experience unpleasant. But having a plan and being prepared can make graduate school exciting and fulfilling.

Be Certain Grad School is Right for You

Career planning is a big part of the undergraduate experience. Students usually have some career aspirations during college, which typically coincide with their major. Political science, for example, is a popular major for students considering law school, and those aspiring to become medical doctors or scientists, like myself, tend to major in the biological sciences. As you near the end of your college career and begin thinking of pursuing a graduate degree, it’s important to first reevaluate your career goals.

Ask yourself why you want a graduate degree. Are you still committed to your original field of interest? Will it make you more competitive in your field? Will it allow for a higher income? Are you passionate about the research? Knowing these answers ahead of time will help you think clearly and begin your program with clear objectives.

Gain Experience and Make an Informed Decision

Gaining experience in your intended profession beforehand is crucial. As an undergraduate, I thought I wanted to attend medical school. I volunteered at hospitals and medical centers and shadowed medical doctors locally and internationally. Through these experiences, I realized I wasn’t one hundred percent passionate about becoming a medical doctor.

During this time, I was also conducting scientific research as an undergraduate student researcher, which made me excited. I realized that I was more passionate about creating knowledge in a lab, than I was applying that knowledge in a medical setting. This led me to apply to graduate school to pursue a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology.

Be Proactive

One thing that is certain about grad school is the workload can be intense. In order to prepare, it is important to be aware of all program requirements. In addition to attending classes, your graduate program may have requirements for research or internships. All programs are different, but I can assure you that the workload can be challenging. If you are unsure about your requirements or deadlines, it is vital to meet with program directors or advisors to devise a plan on how to best approach the work. While it may have been easy as an undergrad to complete certain requirements, graduate school requires significantly more effort and planning.

Participate in Intellectual and Social Events

I will be honest and admit that I am somewhat of an introvert and have social anxiety. As an undergrad, I only attended a select few on-campus events. However, in graduate school, networking has become very important, which is why I make it a priority to attend conferences and student-led social events. You’ll have the chance to meet other students and faculty who can offer invaluable advice. Furthermore, at professional events, you’ll have the opportunity to meet with potential employers, which can be helpful for your future job search.

Maintain a Balanced Life

Graduate school can be overwhelming, and sometimes it can feel like it’s taking over your entire life. It might be difficult to maintain a social life in graduate school, but balance is the solution. It’s important to make time for yourself and commit to a few social activities to help you feel grounded. While it may be difficult to ‘balance’ everything, you should absolutely prioritize time outside of your work. Go to the gym, hang out with your family or friends, and make an effort to continue the joyous activities that you once pursued as an undergrad.